Showing posts with label Wish You Were There. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wish You Were There. Show all posts

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Wish You Were There #4 - Telnaes and Moss exhibit reviews

These two are from the International Journal of Comic Art 4:1 (Spring 2002). I was still feeling my way with writing these.

Pens and Needles: The Editorial Cartoons of Ann Telnaes. Rosslyn, VA: The Newseum, October 26, 2001--March 3, 2002.

The Newseum is closing in 2002 to move to Washington, DC so the Telnaes show (entitled Pulitzer Prize 2001: Editorial Cartoonist Ann Telnaes in the exhibit) will be the last one for several years. Telnaes, the second woman to win the Pulitzer, has no home newspaper; instead she is under contract with Tribune Media Services. The small exhibit consisted of 16 cartoons, 11 of them originals. 5 were on the disputed 2000 presidential election, 2 on the separation of church and state, 1 on Elian Gonzales, 2 on China's human rights record and the last on OSHA's regulating the home workplace. Telnaes worked as an animator for Disney and Warner Bros., and now does a weekly strip as one of the 'Six Chix.' Her line is very distinctive, probably due to her animation work; one can immediately recognize her art. Telnaes draws in pencil, inks her work and then scans it into a computer to add color. She now produces both black and white and color versions of each cartoon; this show reveals the color detracts from the impact of the cartoon. While this was a pleasant little show, the public would benefit from a larger one showing a larger amount and demonstrating a wider range of her cartoons. The exhibit is online at If that site is taken down, many of the cartoons in the exhibit can be seen at; Telnaes' own site at is under construction as of this writing.

Geoffrey Moss: A Pen as Mighty as a Sword. Rosslyn, VA: The Newseum, Fall 2001--March 3, 2002.

A very small exhibit of six pen and ink cartoons drawn after the terrorism of September 11 was tucked into a corner of the main exhibit hall. Moss, who calls his captionless cartoons "Mossprints" is syndicated by Creators. The six drawings were in the classic tradition of newspaper illustration, showing death as a gasmask-wearing skeleton and the Israel / Palestine issue as part of the larger problem. A larger exhibit with more information on Moss would be a pleasure; this show functioned as an appetizer.

Wish You Were There #3 - A couple of book reviews

The following reviews are ones I wrote for the International Journal of Comic Art 3:1 (Spring 2001).

Raggedy Ann and More: Johnny Gruelle's Dolls and Merchandise. Patricia Hall. Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company, 2000. ISBN 1-56554-102-2. $35.

Cartoonists, children's books, and merchandise have been linked since the late nineteenth century. While Charles Schulz, Jim Davis, Berke Breathed, and especially Walt Disney are well known to the contemporary reader, Johnny Gruelle has largely been forgotten. Patricia Hall has been working to reintroduce Gruelle, and this book is the second in a planned trilogy. The first was a biography, Johnny Gruelle, Creator of Raggedy Ann and Andy (1993) and the third planned for spring 2001 will be a bibliography. Gruelle was an artist who moved easily between the worlds of comic strips, political cartoons, and children's books, eventually creating a family business that lasted until the 1960s.

Gruelle's life is recounted briefly by Hall, but readers interested in detail are referred to her previous book. This extremely well-illustrated book concentrates on the physical products derived from Gruelle's imagination. As a cartoonist for the New York Herald, Gruelle created the "Mr. Twee Deedle" comic strip which was merchandized as a doll by the newspaper immediately. While doing the comic strip, he also illustrated children's magazines and books. In 1915, he submitted a design for a patent on Raggedy Ann, a doll that was apparently partially based on characters from his comic strip.

The patent was granted and Gruelle began making his own dolls. Raggedy Ann was not based on a familiar character and initial sales were slow. Gruelle generated interest in the doll by contracting with publisher P. F. Volland for a children's book based on the doll. Other characters he developed, such as the duck Quacky Doodles, proved more popular and merchandising included a cartoon series. By late 1918, Gruelle had completed his book on Raggedy Ann and dolls were produced to be sold with it. The book and doll combination was a success and Gruelle continued producing merchandizable ideas until he died in 1938. His family took over the company and continued licensing Gruelle's characters until they sold the company to a book publisher.

Probably because of marketing concerns, the book is a curious mixture of a business history attractively designed as a full-color coffee table book that includes a price guide. Hall writes to appeal to historians as well as collectors of children's books, dolls, toys, and cartoons. Many sidebar pieces detail specific parts of Gruelle's business efforts, such as books, sheet music, and copyright infringements. Anyone interested in Gruelle, cartoon merchandising, book or doll collecting, or popular culture of the first half of the twentieth century should find something of interest in this book.

Evil Geniuses in a Nutshell. J. D. "Illiad" Frazer. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly & Associates, 2000.

A collection of User Friendly, a free online comic strip, raises some interesting questions about the future of comic art. Frazer's strip is written for a specialized audience of advanced computer users and is published by a company specializing in computer manuals. The strip is done on a computer and lacks backgrounds in the simplified art style that Dilbert made acceptable. Illiad has stated that Breathed's Bloom County was an inspiration, but the humor of User Friendly is extremely dependent on knowledge of computers. A niche market product, reminiscent of earlier specialized work such as Jake's military cartoons, User Friendly is not syndicated, but it still appears in more than 150 college papers and several magazines. In the introduction to this second collection, Frazer said, "But today, with the Web, the distribution infrastructure the syndicates possess is becoming less valuable, and is no longer necessary." One of the strip's webpages claims, "The site,, attracts more than 2 million visits each month, including more than a half million unique visitors and 15 million page views ...and is now by far the largest web-based comic strip... Compared to more traditional syndicated comics, User Friendly the Comic Strip is catching up very quickly. For example, Dilbert, around since 1986, is syndicated in over 2,000 newspapers. boasts an audience equal to 42% of Dilbert’s online audience."

User Friendly can thus be seen as supporting part of McCloud's argument about the transition of comics to the web, but Frazer, O'Reilly, and McCloud decided to publish and charge for a paper version. The ability of both electronic and paper versions to succeed seems to bode well for the future of comic art. The strip and additional information about it can be seen at and

Monday, March 05, 2007

Wish You Were There #2 - IS Art: The Art of Insight Studios

From the International Journal of Comic Art 3-2, we present another WISH YOU WERE THERE, starring Frank Cho, Mark Wheatly, Marc Hempel and a defunct comic store. Is Insight Studios still functioning I wonder?

IS Art: The Art of Insight Studios. Washington, DC: Illumination Arts Gallery of Georgetown / Beyond Comics II, May 12--June 30, 2001.

IS Art displayed original art of Insight Studios, founded in 1978 by Mark Wheatley, and artistically now consisting of him, Marc Hempel and Frank Cho. The exhibit is based on the book of the same title (by Allan Gross, Baltimore: Insight Studios Group, 2001. ISBN 1-89317-11-X; $29.95) which includes a history of Insight; the title of both is undoubtedly a play on words reflecting the general perception of comic art as a lowbrow form. There was a checklist for the show, but no explanatory exhibit text except for captions; presumably the book was intended to fulfill the viewer's possible desire for further information. Due to his syndicated comic strip, Liberty Meadows, and his penchant for drawing beautiful women, Cho is undoubtedly the main attraction of the Studio. In this show, held in an unused upper floor of a comic book store, very few of Cho's strips were displayed. However, instead he was mostly represented by his fanzine work on E.R. Burroughs' Tarzan and Mars series. Hempel included many of his early 1980s paintings of women, cover paintings from his 1990 DC Comics series Breathtaker, and cartoons from his self-published comic book Tug & Buster. His current work, of increasingly-stylized caricatures in ink and watercolor, harkened back to art of the 1920s and 1930s. The twenty-year span of Hempel's career exhibited here provided an interesting view of his artistic evolution. Wheatley has frequently worked on material derived from pulps and magazine illustration. His gouaches for IS's publication of Talbot Mundy's Jimgrim and the Devil at Ludd, clearly having evolved from his comic book work, displayed a strong sense of color and composition. The exhibit, although obviously not done by art gallery professionals (artwork not used in the show was still leaning in piles under a window), was an enjoyable look at a trio of local creators.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Wish You Were There #1 - Comics exhibit reviews 2000-2001

The following are reviews for DC exhibits from 2000-2001. They were originally published in the International Journal of Comic Art 3:1.

Blondie Gets Married! Comic Strip Drawings by Chic Young. Harry Katz and Sara Duke. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, June 22-September 16, 2000.

Herblock's History: Political Cartoons from the Crash to the Millennium. Harry Katz, Sara Duke, and Lucia Rather. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, October 17, 2000--February 17, 2001.

Al Hirschfeld, Beyond Broadway. David Leopold. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, November 9, 2000--March 31, 2001.

At the turn of the millennium, Harry Katz and Sara Duke continued to make the Library of Congress one of the premier spaces for the display of comic art. These three exhibits examined different aspects of comic art: comic strips, political cartoons, and caricature.

Blondie, beginning in 1930, has evolved with the comic strip. Early strips were large and had continuity, but by the 1972 strip in the show, the size had shrunk and Young made it a gag strip. The exhibit of 27 strips out of a donation of 150 had minimal labeling and was divided into typical tropes: naps, courtship, wedding, family, mailman, food, work, love, homemaking, and baths. Young used a delicate line in the 1930s, typical of some cartoonists of the era, that is a pleasure to see in the original. His 1931--1933 courtship and marriage strips were wildly popular during the Depression and Young's artwork conveys now a vivid sense of the time. In the 1938 Sunday dream strip, "We'll be back in a few hours," Young was playfully surrealistic while still drawing the pretty girls he was known for. While an exhibit devoted to original art, not commentary or history, needs few labels, an explanation of the blue penciling seen on many strips over the regular graphite pencil would be helpful; the blue was used to indicate where mechanical tones and shading needed to be added by the syndicate. "All quiet on the Bumstead's front!" from 1945 contained clear marginal instructions about the shading, and showed an interesting piece of comic history now that computers handle all such details. A good brochure was distributed at the show with articles by Duke and Young's daughter, and an electronic version of the exhibit can be seen at

Herbert "Herblock" Block has cartooned through nine decades, won three Pulitzer Prizes, and coined the word "McCarthyism." This exhibit was drawn from 119 cartoons that he gave to the Library. The show was mounted in a grand space on either side of the Jefferson Building's great hall on red, white, and blue panels. It was divided into roughly chronological sections except for overarching ones like "Herblock's Presidents." Herblock's masterly use of pencil, ink and crayon can be seen throughout the show, although correction overlays become more common and his latest work resembled collages. Seeing the evolution of Herblock's style and subjects over 70 years was fascinating. Although the exhibit was excellently done and displayed the breadth of his career, Block's work can be fairly easily seen in other media. He has published many collections of his work, and this exhibit has a short catalogue produced by the Library. One clever idea made this show especially interesting. The Library solicited caricatures of "Herblock by Other Cartoonists" and displayed them at the end of each panel. Fifteen colleagues like Mike Peters, Ann Telnaes, Jules Feiffer, Signe Wilkinson, and Mike Luckovich produced pointed, but obviously respectful, drawings of Block, frequently with his bete noire Richard Nixon. Katz, Duke, and Rather deserve credit for a truly fine exhibit.
The exhibit on Hirschfeld is somewhat problematic because it was designed to be. When faced with a career even longer than Herblock's, guest curator and Hirschfeld archivist David Leopold chose to focus not on Hirschfeld's well-known pen-and-ink entertainment caricatures, but rather on his other artistic pursuits. Exhibiting 24 pieces, many donated to the Library by the artist, Leopold produced a wide-ranging survey of works in all media, especially including some early art. The result was an interesting and ambitious show, but not a complete success since Hirschfeld's best work is his caricatures. Leopold included obscure material like drawings of North Africa from 1926 -- material that was reminiscent of magazine illustration of the time. Other early work like a 1923 gouache advertisement for Woman to Woman magazine recalled Szyk's work in miniatures, and his 1931 lithograph Art and Industry owed much to Daumier. Hirschfeld's color caricatures, usually for magazine covers like "Walter Lippman" for American Mercury in the 1940s, show that he could have continued doing similar work and had a full career. Recently, printing advances have made it possible for him to use color for caricatures and one from the New York Times in 2000 is in the show. The exhibit, accompanied by a well-done brochure, was an interesting example of Hirschfeld's lesser abilities, but not a major view of his career.

Politics in Black and White: Local, State, and National Cartoons and Caricatures. Dan Voss and Ellen Vartanoff. Rockville, MD: Montgomery College VCT Department Gallery, October 10--November 10, 2000.

This small exhibit was aimed at students in the College's graphic arts department. According to Voss, the "idea was to be topical and to bring in a little bit more local connection than you would expect." With eight artists (Joe Azar, Chip Beck, Steve Brodner, Chris Curtis, Kevin "Kal" Kallaugher, Marcia Klioze-Hughes, and Lucinda Levine) and 55 pieces in the exhibit, students and other visitors saw a wide range of comic art. The only label in the exhibit was a short introductory panel with brief biographical information. Azar (a conservative political cartoonist for the Legal Times and the Washington Times), Kal, and Curtis (cartoonist for the Gazette chain of local newspapers) all produce standard "modern" political cartoons; while competent, no cartoon displayed was particularly memorable. Caricaturists were well represented. Levine's work looked like that of unrelated David Levine. Klioze-Hughes' color work caricatured historical figures like George Washington. Beck's pieces were unfortunately reminiscent of the cartoonists working in chalk in shopping malls. Brodner works for national publications like the New Yorker, Time, and Newsweek and his distinctive style was well represented. "We hope to bring [the students] the real thing," Voss stated, and the exhibit succeeded in being an engaging look at the styles and ability of a small range of working professional cartoonists.

Cartoons and Campaigns. Arlington, VA: The Newseum, October 7--November 12, 2000.

Pens and Needles: The Editorial Cartoons of Joel Pett. Arlington, VA: The Newseum, November 10, 2000--January 7, 2001.

"Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus." Arlington, VA: The Newseum, December, 2000.

Cartoons and Campaigns added political cartoons to Every Four Years, an exhibit on press coverage of the Presidential campaign. The cartoons, a mixture of originals and reproductions, totaled approximately 40 pieces of art. Included in the show were originals by Luckovich (who still uses tone shading), Breen, Conrad, Wilkinson, Horsey, Borgman, Peters, and reproductions by Marlette, Toles, Handelsman, Chip Beck, Morin, Higgins, Kal, Pett, Gorrell, Gerner, Telnaes, Bok, Benson, Herblock, and Szep. The show presented a snapshot of election cartoons, and was enjoyable in a casual sense, but did not add anything significant to the study of comic art.

Pins and Needles was a significantly better exhibit in terms of learning. Ten original cartoons with commentary by Pett were displayed, unfortunately in a hallway leading to a movie theater. Seven reproductions from the twenty cartoons that Pett submitted to win the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning were also included. Pett's commentary on his process of cartooning included exhibiting three drafts and the final cartoon. This was a minor, but interesting show.

"Yes, Virginia..." is the Newseum's annual show of Thomas Nast's Harper's Weekly engravings of Santa Claus. The exhibit included artwork from 1863, 1865, 1866, 1871, 1879, 1884, and 1885 and showed how Nast's artwork and concept of Santa progressed through a twenty-year period. According to Nast, by 1884 Santa was answering telephone requests. Since Santa Claus is so deeply embedded in American culture, an annual show devoted to the cartoonist who created him helps keep Nast's work alive.

The Art of John Cederquist: Reality of Illusion. Washington, DC: National Museum of American Art's Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, March 31--August 20, 2000.

John Cederquist stretches the definition of comic art. He creates artistic wooden furniture. Cederquist is influenced by Popeye cartoons and he has copied two-dimensional furniture from the cartoons to produce three-dimensional pieces. Although this show, organized by the Oakland Museum of California, did not include any of his Popeye works among its thirteen pieces, the influence of cartoons could still be seen. "Tubular" (1990) appeared to be a bookcase made of shipping crates but had a Hokusai-style wave rolling out of the top. "Steamer Chest III" (1995) looked as though it was a coiled pipe, supported by stacked wood, with puffs of Crumb-like smoke emerging from each end of the pipe. Cederquist's titles were puns that helped define the piece -- words and pictures working together -- leading to the beginning of the definition of a cartoon. The exhibit provoked thought on what comic art really is.